Dec 17, 2007
At least 40 women have been murdered this year by religious vigilantes in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, according to the city’s police chief. The real figure is likely to be much higher. A copy of a police file from Basra, revealed last month, showed the details of more than 50 such murders in the previous five months alone.
Notes found on many of the victims’ bodies said that the women had been killed for not observing religious law. Some of the women were killed because they were not covering their heads. Others were murdered for wearing make-up. Still others simply because they worked. And such murders are not limited to Basra. In Baghdad, three female teachers have been murdered in recent months.
Baghdad and Basra, Iraq’s two largest cities, have long been known as two of the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in the Middle East. Until a few years ago, women wore modern clothing, went freely to school and work, and participated in the life of the society in these cities. But all that has changed dramatically since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Gangs who call themselves “religious police” have appeared in the streets, harassing women for not observing religious laws and threatening them with violence. The government denies any link to these religious gangs, but it has not prosecuted most of the crimes against women.
This U.S.-backed government is dominated by politicians who belong to religious fundamentalist parties, which in turn run armed militias. The new Iraqi constitution, written by the U.S. for Iraq, says that no law can contradict the rulings of Islam – which these thugs interpret to mean all the interdictions on women. Recently, the Iraqi government told female police officers to turn in their guns – widely seen as a move toward pushing women out of the police force, and out of government jobs altogether.
If religious fundamentalists are doing the dirty work, taking Iraq back to the Middle Ages, they owe their positions to the U.S. military occupation.